Doctor who used humor, medicine to heal dies of COVID-19

Dr. Frank Lockwood, a founding member of Village Theatre and a family physician, died Aug. 5 of COVID-19.
Dr. Frank Lockwood, a founding member of Village Theatre and a family physician, died Aug. 5 of COVID-19.

Credit: Village Theatre

Credit: Village Theatre

Frank Lockwood was the kind of doctor who felt as if his patients were part of his family. He once spent a weekend making hourly phone calls to a patient who was having trouble managing her diabetes.

During his daily commute from Midtown to his practice in Henry County, he listened to audio programs to learn Spanish that would help him better communicate with his patients.

And whenever friends needed him, the family physician, who was also a fixture in local improv theater, was there to offer medical advice sometimes served with a side of humor.

“He always made me laugh. That is what I will miss the most about him,” said Lockwood’s husband, Bernie Wilke. “He was always somebody who was there to lend an ear and uplift people.”

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Lockwood, 52, died Aug. 5, after battling COVID-19 for six weeks. After testing positive for the virus in late June, he quarantined at home in separate rooms from Wilke, who had tested negative. Lockwood’s symptoms grew progressively worse. He knew the virus could ravage the body over time, and before he went to the hospital on July 2, he prepared Wilke for the worst possible outcome.

“He said on multiple occasions that if he were in there for more than three weeks that he wouldn’t be coming home or that he wouldn’t want to,” Wilke said. Just after midnight on July 3, they spoke their last words before Lockwood spent weeks in a medically induced coma fighting double pneumonia, kidney failure and an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Dr. Frank Lockwood (right), pictured with husband Bernie Wilke (left), died Aug. 5 after a six-week battle with COVID-19.
Dr. Frank Lockwood (right), pictured with husband Bernie Wilke (left), died Aug. 5 after a six-week battle with COVID-19.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Wilke and Lockwood’s closest friends at Village Theatre, the improv theater in the Old Fourth Ward where Lockwood was a founding member, have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from community members, colleagues and patients. “I have been humbled and amazed,” said Wilke. “Every day I hear a new story about how he helped someone.”

Lockwood, the eldest of three boys, grew up in Macon. He attended medical school at Mercer University before doing his residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He was new to Houston and began doing stand-up comedy as a way to get out and meet people, Wilke said. Not long after he moved to Atlanta, Lockwood met Wilke at a local bar over a discussion about Houston. Lockwood told Wilke he was a comedian and invited him to dinner when Wilke returned from a business trip. A month later, they were inseparable.

As an improv cast member, Lockwood impressed his cast mates with his lack of pretension and his stellar singing. “Frank always played different variations of Frank. It showed a lot of people that ... to do improv, you just need to be a variation of yourself,” said Michael King, a founding member of Village Theatre, who also served as officiant at Lockwood and Wilke’s 2015 wedding.

Though Lockwood loved to entertain — he was a great lyricist who could bust serious rhymes — he also served as a mentor and guide to aspiring doctors by hosting students from several universities during their family practice rotations. He became the personal doctor of many members of his improv family and was always there with a kind word or encouragement.

When Blair Holden, co-owner of Village Theatre, was drowning his sorrows after a particularly brutal improv set at one local venue, Lockwood sought him out, threw an arm across his shoulders and told him it wasn’t that bad. “He was absolutely lying,” said Holden. But he convinced Holden that one bad show wouldn’t get him kicked out.

Chad Fishburne recalled how Lockwood changed not only his mind but his heart, challenging the mores of Fishburne’s religious conservative upbringing. “It took me getting out in the world and joining this theater group to understand that you can’t judge a book by its cover. That is what l learned about from Dr. Frank,” Fishburne said.

Even as he was growing ill, Lockwood’s passion for helping others continued. The same day he entered the hospital, he spent time on the phone counseling one of the theater members who had also fallen ill with the virus.

“In helping others, he was relentless. I think he would want to be remembered as a mix between a showstopping superstar and an unbelievably amazing, intelligent and humble doctor,” Holden said.

As a tribute, Village Theatre has set up a scholarship fund in Lockwood’s honor to help young people find the same power in love and laughter that Lockwood did.

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